In posting yesterday's two throwback images of my great grandparents and Sheila's great grandmother, I started thinking about how serious their expressions are in both photographs. Then I went digging and found a few more old photographs I've shared over the years. Again and again, nobody is EVER smiling. Off I went in search of an answer and what I found is a partial testimonial that you really can find just about anything on Google!
I found this article by Michael Zhang on the PetaPixel website going back to 2013. Click on any image in this post to read the full article, which shares other examples, but here are a couple of excerpts from his research, in part, based on an in-depth article by Nicholas Jeeves.
"Although nowadays we think of smiles as being indicative of happiness, humor, and warmth,
they apparently had a very different meaning back in the day:
"By the 17th century in Europe it was a well-established fact that the only people who smiled broadly, in life and in art, were the poor, the lewd, the drunk, the innocent, and the entertainment."
Want to be seen as upper class and as a person of good character? Don’t smile."
I have no idea why the group photograph at the top was in my grandmother's album, and there's no longer anybody alive who would know. I know it was more than likely taken somewhere around Sandusky, Ohio. However, this family certainly lives on in cyberspace. But notice their expressions - every single person, including the baby are serious! Also, I love the presentation with the image in a decorative matte.
The three images below are my grandfather, probably taken around 1910; my wife's great grandmother taken around 1865; and my great grandparents around 1875. Not a smile in the bunch, although I love the shot of my grandmother on the right, probably around 1910. She still isn't smiling though.
Notice the classic technique in the portrait, complete with a little catch-light in her eyes. As far as the pose goes, there's a great story going back thirty-plus years ago that came out of PPA print competition. Supposedly there were multiple artists one year who all used the same similar pose of a bride with her hands together next to her cheek. Well, one of them claimed the pose was his.
Al Gilbert used to do an incredible program about the history of portrait photography. As the story goes, Al stepped in and showed the pose didn't belong to any of them, but the great masters of the 16th century!
As much as things have changed over the years in portrait photography, the goal of every artist, is still the same. You can't fake it 'till you make it, when it comes to portraiture. Your clients are putting their trust in you to exceed expectations. And, if you do it right, you'll become habit-forming and build a lasting relationship with your subject.
So, learn how to capture good solid portraits; keep raising the bar on your skill set, especially in lighting; and keep building relationships with each potential client. And if you get caught up in the criticism of your work on various Facebook forums, listen to what's being said; consider how to make your work better and then remember what my old buddy Dean Collins used to say..."Beauty is in the eyes of the checkbook holder!"
Check out "Why?" one of the most popular features on the SCU Blog. It's a very simple concept - one image, one artist and one short sound bite. Each artist shares what makes the image one of their most favorite. We're over 100 artists featured since the project started. Click on the link above and you can scroll through all of the episodes to date.